Urlacher to finish career in Chicago

<!--Default NodeId For Brian Urlacher is 722169,2003--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:722169]>Brian Urlacher</A> is heading to Las Vegas Wednesday, but it's the Bears that are feeling lucky after agreeing to an extension through 2011 with the three-time pro bowler.

The nine-year contract is reportedly worth more than $58 million. Urlacher's deal has the same signing bonus of $19 million, Ray Lewis received a year ago when he agreed to a seven-year deal worth $50 million. Urlacher is now the highest paid defensive player in the game.

Although, Urlacher will never have to worry about money again, the former first-round pick had Chicago on his mind.

"I've been here three years and I don't think it really gets much better, football wise, anywhere than this place," Urlacher said of his experience with the Bears. "I love it here; my family is here now. It was an easy decision for me."

The Bears were able to sign Urlacher to the richest deal in franchise history due in part to the release of veterans James "Big Cat" Williams and Marcus Robinson, which put the team $10 million under the salary cap.

Still, general manager Jerry Angelo was adamant that Urlacher's contract would not hinder the team's salary cap flexibility in the future.

"We're very happy with the way it's structured, we spent a lot of time on that," Angelo said. "We felt it was win-win on everybody's part.

"When you see these deals being done now people say, ‘well you either need to gut your football team now to do this or you have to really become a hostage into the future,' meaning you can't plan anymore, you really become stagnant. We're not doing that, we're able to keep our team together as well as continue to plan for our future."

Urlacher's original five-year contract, signed in 2000, was set to expire following the 2004 season. Despite having Urlacher under contract through for two more seasons Angelo wanted to get a contract done before his pending free agency became a distraction.

"We did not want to make this into a story," Angelo said. "The story is today and it obviously had a very happy ending and our best days are ahead of us in terms of our organization and obviously Brian's as well."

The Bears continue their philosophy of rewarding their own. In the past two years they have re-signed Jerry Azumah, R.W. McQuarters, Bryan Robinson, Warrick Holdman, Olin Kreutz and now Urlacher.

"It's a situation that I feel pretty good about, because you know that the centerpiece, the main guy in your unit is going to be there, be a part of your organization for the next nine years," said Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache. "So I think, that in itself speaks volumes and as he (Urlacher) illuded to there are some other players that we've locked up for the next four or five years, which means this is going to be a solid franchise, a solid football team in the years to come.

"I think that sends a message to the players. It sends a message to the community, the commitment that's made here towards winning and being successful. It's an incentive to all the guys on the roster that if they do the job they'll be here."

Urlacher's dynamic play has brought him popularity beyond Chicago as his replica jersey was the top selling jersey in the NFL last season and was the leading defensive vote getter by fans in Pro Bowl balloting in 2003

The middle linebacker led the Bears in tackles the past three seasons. Urlacher, the Bears first-round draft pick in 2000 (ninth overall), established a new franchise single-season record with 214 tackles in 2003, the first Bears defender to eclipse the 200-tackle plateau, besting the previous mark of 190 set by Hall of Famer Dick Butkus in 1972. The third-year pro out of New Mexico has averaged over 175 tackles per season during his three years in Chicago and shattered the Bears rookie record for stops with 165 in 2000, becoming just the second first-year player to lead the team in tackles en route to earning the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year honor.

Urlacher became just the sixth player in franchise history to earn Pro Bowl berths each of their first three seasons in the NFL (Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, Mike Ditka, Rick Casares and Harlon Hill).

In 2001, the 6-4, 258 pounder finished fifth in NFL MVP voting, leading all defensive players in the balloting and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year by Football Digest. He has led the Bears in tackles in 22 of the team's last 26 games and his 527 career tackles are the most ever for a Bears player to start a career.

Urlacher has only played middle linebacker three years and just turned 25, so Bears' management believe his best days are still ahead of him.

"Brian's best days as a football player will be here playing as a Chicago Bear," Angelo said. "He's a pillar that we will continue to build on and around for many, many days to come."

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